seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Premiere of “The Quare Fellow”

Brendan Behan’s first play, The Quare Fellow, premieres at the Pike Theatre in Dublin on November 19, 1954, to critical success. The title is taken from a Hiberno-English pronunciation of queer.

The Quare Fellow is initially offered to Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, but is turned down. The play has its London première in May 1956 at Joan Littlewood‘s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. On July 24, 1956 it transfers to the Comedy Theatre, London. In September 1956 the Abbey Theatre finally performs The Quare Fellow. It has such success that the Abbey’s artistic director, Ria Mooney, pushes the next play back to allow The Quare Fellow to run for six weeks. Its first New York performance is on November 27, 1958 at the Circle in the Square Theatre.

The play is set in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. The antihero of the play, the Quare Fellow, is never seen or heard but rather functions as the play’s central conceit. He is a man condemned to die on the following day, for an unmentioned crime. Whatever it is, it revolts his fellow inmates far less than that of the Other Fellow, a very camp, almost Wildean, gay man.

There are three generations of prisoners in Mountjoy including boisterous youngsters who can irritate both other inmates and the audience and the weary old lags Neighbour and “methylated martyr” Dunlavin.

The first act is played out in the cramped area outside five cells and is comedic, sometimes rather like an Irish episode of Porridge. After the interval, the pace slows considerably and the play becomes much darker, as the time for the execution approaches. The focus moves to the exercise yard and to the workers who are digging the grave for the soon-to-be-executed Quare Fellow.

The play is a grimly realistic portrait of prison life in Ireland in the 1950s, and a reminder of the days in which homosexuality was illegal and the death penalty relatively common. The play is based on Behan’s own prison experiences, and highlights the perceived barbarity of capital punishment, then in use in Ireland. The play also attacks the false piety in attitudes to sex, politics and religion.

The Auld Triangle“, a song from the opening of the play, has become an Irish music standard and is known by many who are unaware of its link to The Quare Fellow.

In 1962 the play is adapted for the screen by Arthur Dreifuss and stars Patrick McGoohan, Sylvia Syms and Walter Macken. Although the film receives some favourable reviews, it is not regarded as a faithful adaptation of the play.

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Birth of Writer Walter Macken

Walter Macken, writer of short stories, novels and plays, is born at 18 St. Joseph’s Terrace in Galway, County Galway on May 3, 1915.

Macken’s father, Walter Macken, Sr., formerly a carpenter, joins the British Army in 1915 and is killed in March of the following year at St Eloi. The family therefore has to rely on lodgers and a small service pension to sustain them.

Macken attends the Presentation Convent for Infants from (1918-1921), St. Mary’s, a Diocesan College where they train people who want to become priests (1923-1924), and Patrician Brothers both Primary and Secondary (1921-1922 and 1924-1934), where he takes his Leaving Certificate. He is writing short stories, novels, and plays in exercise books from the age of eight and carries on these works well into his teens.

Macken is originally an actor, principally with the Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe in Galway, where he meets his wife Peggy, and The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He also plays lead roles on Broadway in M. J. Molloy‘s The King of Friday’s Men and his own play Home Is the Hero. The success of his third book, Rain on the Wind, winner of the Literary Guild award in the United States, enables him to focus his energies on writing.

Macken also acts in films, notably in Arthur Dreifussadaptation of Brendan Behan‘s The Quare Fellow. He is perhaps best known for his trilogy of Irish historical novels Seek the Fair Land, The Silent People, and The Scorching Wind.

His son Ultan Macken is a well-known journalist in the print and broadcast media of Ireland, and wrote a biography of his father, Walter Macken: Dreams on Paper.

Walter Macken dies of heart failure at the age of 51 in Menlo, County Galway, on April 22, 1967.